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Monday, 4 February 2008


One of the things about having narcolepsy is that it is difficult to find work. It's not really that I'm incapable, in fact I can do quite a lot of things that employers find useful. The problem is that most emplyers want these things done at particular times, and that's what isn't so easy. Although in general I'm more alert in the mornings, there are days when I start falling asleep at nine o'clock in the morning, and others when I might be reasonably alert all day. Because one of the peculiarities of narcolepsy is night-time insomnia, my most productive work hours can sometimes be at two or three o'clock in the morning.

Hence, I've been trying to see what potential there is for making money online, where I can choose to work when I am feeling most alert, and take naps whenever I need to without letting other people down. I'm going to do a series of posts on what I find out, and try to give an honest analysis of what potential I think there is for earning, and how this compares to what the sites themselves say about it.

One of the first money making opportunities I found on the web was Amazon Mechanical Turk. It's a web application by the same people who are better known as an online bookstore, and is named after a famous chess-playing automaton built by Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1769. Kempelen convinced many people throughout Europe that he had built a machine with artificial intelligence, able through its cogs and gears to beat some of the best chess players of the day. The Turk was, however, in machine intelligent terms, a fraud, since its achievements at chess were actually being accomplished by a grand master concealed inside.

Amazon Mechanical Turk's principle alludes to that cautionary tale, some tasks are repetitive and fairly simple, yet are not accomplished well by machines or need human input. Once you register, you are able to choose from thousands of available HITs - Human Intelligence Tasks. This is perhaps the simplest possible model of crowdsourcing, and perhaps clickworking is a better description, since many HITs do not require and great deal of skill.

Examples of the kinds of things that appear on Mechanical Turk are:

  • Write a short plot description for a specified movie - $0.50
  • Choose you favourite photo from a given set - $0.01
  • Give you opinion about a topic on a website - $0.10
  • Make a list on a website - $0.25
  • Guess the colour to appear on a given website on a given day - $0.01
  • Write a short blog article on a specified subject - $1.00
  • Answer a survey question - $0.01
Some HITs have a bonus payable for good work, and these can be very lucrative indeed, compared to the standard payment. Some can be very interesting, and can lead to new finds on the web. It isn't big money, in my opinion, but more a worthwhile recreation. Having said that, I believe that it is easily possible to make a lot more than I do, with dedication. It is quite possible that good coders might be able to write scripts to help them with some HITs, and thereby earn far more.

Mechanical Turk is a subsidiary of, and tends to have a US bias in its HITs, and also in its payment system. Earnings are accrued in an account, and workers can have tis transferred to their US personal bank account, or converted into gift certificates. Workers in India can take payment from their accounts in the form of a cheque in Indian rupees, but in the rest of the world the gift voucher is the only payment option.

I find Mechanical Turk more a bit of fun than anything else. By playing around for about an hour, I can earn a couple of dollars, but I'm pretty slow and easily distracted by the more interesting tasks, and spend quite a while looking at the background sites to the HITs. It's definitely worth a look, though.


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Vaibhav said...

Yes its fun and easy... For example, someone is paying a quarter for posting a comment containing "
Alex Dombroff" on any blog. So the assignments can get pretty simple...